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Homes: Scott Pask’s Tucson Home

Homes: Scott Pask’s Tucson Home

Scott Pask’s Tucson Home

The city of Tucson is defined by the vast expanse of desert, rows of adobe houses and a vaguely Art Deco, sand-colored downtown. But in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, which ring parts of the city, sits a house that slyly plays with local stereotypes, at once celebrating the rough-hewn appeal of Southwest architecture and playing against it with Modernist flourishes straight out of the International Style playbook. “It’s very of the place without being hit over the head with it,” says the owner, the set designer Scott Pask. “You’re in Arizona but it’s not some clichéd adobe.”

Pask is a prolific contributor to Broadway — he’s designed for over 50 shows and won Tony Awards for three, including “The Book of Mormon” — and his primary residence is an East Village apartment. But Arizona is where Pask was raised; he and his twin brother, Bruce, the men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, grew up in Yuma, and Scott attended college in Tucson. That’s where he first fell in love with the city to which he always intended to return and build a home. “There’s an abstractness to the landscape because it’s so rugged and harsh,” Pask says. “Even when I’m not here, it’s something that I think about all the time.”

He collaborated with Tucson-based craftsmen as well as with longtime friends — including Robert Nevins, his design professor at the University of Arizona. Using the original structure as a jumping-off point, they opened up and added windows, shifting the focus to the “vistas and views,” says Pask. “I love a horizon line.” The garage — a further barrier to light — was torn down and one driveway eliminated so that visitors arrive at the front of the house rather than its side. 

The interior rooms, dark and heavy, were gutted. Plywood bookcases, drywall, wall-to-wall carpeting, the sickly yellow tiles in the master bedroom bath — all were ripped out, exposing the concrete beneath. It’s a material beloved by Pask for its “honesty” as well as its association with the work of Louis Kahn, one of his favorite architects. The ceilings, painted a very dark brown, with exposed beams, were sandblasted, revealing knotty Douglas fir. Rather than enclose the kitchen, a free-standing wall was erected between that room and the shared dining and living area. And two linear skylights were constructed, one stretching from the north bedroom to the south bedroom, and the other inside the master bedroom and bath.

Pask chose a honed and porous Mexican travertine stone for all of the kitchen and bathroom countertops, as well as the master bathroom and shower walls. “The stone is so easily stained and scratched that I had to sign a release of liability from the manufacturer, but I was happy with the idea of the house showing history as it’s used. It’s similar to the hand-plastered walls, which will become more beautiful as cracks appear,” says Pask. “My adored stepfather, Frank, who passed away two years ago, put one of our findings from a day of antiquing on the kitchen counter. It left a small scratch when it was moved, and I love the remains of that day. Now that he’s gone that small trace is treasured — I run my fingers over that mark each time I’m in the kitchen.”

Southwestern design has become a décor taboo, with a reputation somewhere between kitsch and revivalist grandstanding. “I always preferred something on the edge of very austere,” says Pask, whose house contains a sprinkling of local favorites — hand-plastered walls, ceramic vessels, vintage Navajo rugs, antique Mexican furniture — leavened with spare, modern pieces and contemporary art. More important than all of it, though, is the play of shadows throughout the day. Thanks to his theater work, Pask is acutely aware of how light moves through a space. As a result, each room is like an individual set, with moods established by the passage of the sun; patterns emerge and disappear, softening and emphasizing the geometry of the architecture, producing noirish drama by late afternoon. The windows are no longer covered, framing the lush vegetation of the desert. Pask leaves them open during the day, the sweet smell of mesquite scenting the rooms.

Source: The New York Times Magazine

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